Quick reStructuredText

Copyright: This document is based on the original quickref for reStructuredText and has likewise been placed in the public domain.

For more details have a look at The homepage of reStructuredText, or search for reStructuredText in your favorite search-engine.

Inline Markup

Inline markup allows words and phrases within text to have character styles (like italics and boldface) and functionality (like hyperlinks).

Plain text Typical result Notes
*emphasis* emphasis Normally rendered as italics.
**strong emphasis** strong emphasis Normally rendered as boldface.
`interpreted text` (see note at right) The rendering and meaning of interpreted text is domain- or application-dependent. It can be used for things like index entries or explicit descriptive markup (like program identifiers).
``inline literal`` inline literal Normally rendered as monospaced text. Spaces should be preserved, but line breaks will not be.
reference_ reference A simple, one-word hyperlink reference. See Hyperlink Targets.
`phrase reference`_ phrase reference A hyperlink reference with spaces or punctuation needs to be quoted with backquotes. See Hyperlink Targets.
anonymous__ anonymous With two underscores instead of one, both simple and phrase references may be anonymous (the reference text is not repeated at the target). See Hyperlink Targets.
_`inline internal target` inline internal target A crossreference target within text. See Hyperlink Targets.
|substitution reference| (see note at right) The result is substituted in from the substitution definition. It could be text, an image, a hyperlink, or a combination of these and others.
footnote reference [1]_ footnote reference 1 See Footnotes.
citation reference [CIT2002]_ citation reference [CIT2002] See Citations.
http://docutils.sf.net/ http://docutils.sf.net/ A standalone hyperlink.

Asterisk, backquote, vertical bar, and underscore are inline delimiter characters. Asterisk, backquote, and vertical bar act like quote marks; matching characters surround the marked-up word or phrase, whitespace or other quoting is required outside them, and there can't be whitespace just inside them. If you want to use inline delimiter characters literally, escape (with backslash) or quote them (with double backquotes; i.e. use inline literals).

In detail, the reStructuredText specification says that in inline markup, the following rules apply to start-strings and end-strings (inline markup delimiters):

  1. The start-string must start a text block or be immediately preceded by whitespace or any of  ' " ( [ { or <.
  2. The start-string must be immediately followed by non-whitespace.
  3. The end-string must be immediately preceded by non-whitespace.
  4. The end-string must end a text block (end of document or followed by a blank line) or be immediately followed by whitespace or any of ' " . , : ; ! ? - ) ] } / \ or >.
  5. If a start-string is immediately preceded by one of  ' " ( [ { or <, it must not be immediately followed by the corresponding character from  ' " ) ] } or >.
  6. An end-string must be separated by at least one character from the start-string.
  7. An unescaped backslash preceding a start-string or end-string will disable markup recognition, except for the end-string of inline literals.

Also remember that inline markup may not be nested (well, except that inline literals can contain any of the other inline markup delimiter characters, but that doesn't count because nothing is processed).

Escaping with Backslashes

reStructuredText uses backslashes ("\") to override the special meaning given to markup characters and get the literal characters themselves. To get a literal backslash, use an escaped backslash ("\\"). For example:

Raw reStructuredText Typical result
*escape* ``with`` "\" escape with ""
\*escape* \``with`` "\\" *escape* ``with`` "\"

In Python strings it will, of course, be necessary to escape any backslash characters so that they actually reach reStructuredText. The simplest way to do this is to use raw strings:

Python string Typical result
r"""\*escape* \`with` "\\"""" *escape* `with` "\"
 """\\*escape* \\`with` "\\\\"""" *escape* `with` "\"
 """\*escape* \`with` "\\"""" escape with ""

Section Structure

Plain text Typical result
Titles are underlined (or over-
and underlined) with a printing
nonalphanumeric 7-bit ASCII
character. Recommended choices
are "``= - ` : ' " ~ ^ _ * + # < >``".
The underline/overline must be at
least as long as the title text.

A lone top-level (sub)section
is lifted up to be the document's


Titles are underlined (or over- and underlined) with a printing nonalphanumeric 7-bit ASCII character. Recommended choices are "= - ` : ' " ~ ^ _ * + # < >". The underline/overline must be at least as long as the title text.

A lone top-level (sub)section is lifted up to be the document's (sub)title.


Plain text Typical result

This is a paragraph.

Paragraphs line up at their left
edges, and are normally separated
by blank lines.

This is a paragraph.

Paragraphs line up at their left edges, and are normally separated by blank lines.

Bullet Lists

Plain text Typical result
Bullet lists:

- This is item 1
- This is item 2

- Bullets are "-", "*" or "+".
  Continuing text must be aligned
  after the bullet and whitespace.

Note that a blank line is required
before the first item and after the
last, but is optional between items.

Bullet lists:
  • This is item 1
  • This is item 2
  • Bullets are "-", "*" or "+". Continuing text must be aligned after the bullet and whitespace.

Note that a blank line is required before the first item and after the last, but is optional between items.

Enumerated Lists

Plain text Typical result
Enumerated lists:

3. This is the first item
4. This is the second item
5. Enumerators are arabic numbers,
   single letters, or roman numerals
6. List items should be sequentially
   numbered, but need not start at 1
   (although not all formatters will
   honour the first index).
#. This item is auto-enumerated

Enumerated lists:
  1. This is the first item
  2. This is the second item
  3. Enumerators are arabic numbers, single letters, or roman numerals
  4. List items should be sequentially numbered, but need not start at 1 (although not all formatters will honour the first index).
  5. This item is auto-enumerated

Definition Lists

Plain text Typical result
Definition lists:

  Definition lists associate a term with
  a definition.

  The term is a one-line phrase, and the
  definition is one or more paragraphs or
  body elements, indented relative to the
  term. Blank lines are not allowed
  between term and definition.
Definition lists:
Definition lists associate a term with a definition.
The term is a one-line phrase, and the definition is one or more paragraphs or body elements, indented relative to the term. Blank lines are not allowed between term and definition.

Field Lists

Plain text Typical result
    Tony J. (Tibs) Ibbs,
    David Goodger

    (and sundry other good-natured folks)

:Version: 1.0 of 2001/08/08
:Dedication: To my father.

Authors: Tony J. (Tibs) Ibbs, David Goodger
(and sundry other good-natured folks)
Version: 1.0 of 2001/08/08
Dedication: To my father.

Field lists are used as part of an extension syntax, such as options for directives, or database-like records meant for further processing. Field lists may also be used as generic two-column table constructs in documents.

Literal Blocks

Plain text Typical result
A paragraph containing only two colons
indicates that the following indented
or quoted text is a literal block.


  Whitespace, newlines, blank lines, and
  all kinds of markup (like *this* or
  \this) is preserved by literal blocks.

  The paragraph containing only '::'
  will be omitted from the result.

The ``::`` may be tacked onto the very
end of any paragraph. The ``::`` will be
omitted if it is preceded by whitespace.
The ``::`` will be converted to a single
colon if preceded by text, like this::

  It's very convenient to use this form.

Literal blocks end when text returns to
the preceding paragraph's indentation.
This means that something like this
is possible::

      We start here
    and continue here
  and end here.

Per-line quoting can also be used on
unindented literal blocks::

> Useful for quotes from email and
> for Haskell literate programming.

A paragraph containing only two colons indicates that the following indented or quoted text is a literal block.

  Whitespace, newlines, blank lines, and
  all kinds of markup (like *this* or
  \this) is preserved by literal blocks.

  The paragraph containing only '::'
  will be omitted from the result.

The :: may be tacked onto the very end of any paragraph. The :: will be omitted if it is preceded by whitespace. The :: will be converted to a single colon if preceded by text, like this:

  It's very convenient to use this form.

Literal blocks end when text returns to the preceding paragraph's indentation. This means that something like this is possible:

      We start here
    and continue here
  and end here.

Per-line quoting can also be used on unindented literal blocks:

  > Useful for quotes from email and
  > for Haskell literate programming.

Line Blocks

Plain text Typical result
| Line blocks are useful for addresses,
| verse, and adornment-free lists.
| Each new line begins with a
| vertical bar ("|").
|     Line breaks and initial indents
|     are preserved.
| Continuation lines are wrapped
  portions of long lines; they begin
  with spaces in place of vertical bars.
Line blocks are useful for addresses,
verse, and adornment-free lists.

Each new line begins with a
vertical bar ("|").
Line breaks and initial indents
are preserved.
Continuation lines are wrapped portions of long lines; they begin with spaces in place of vertical bars.

Block Quotes

Plain text Typical result
Block quotes are just:

    Indented paragraphs,

        and they may nest.

Block quotes are just:

Indented paragraphs,

and they may nest.

Use empty comments to separate indentation contexts, such as block quotes and directive contents.


Plain text Typical result

This is a plaintext interlinear, it uses the exact same
syntax as literal blocks::

   so-el  âr hrô-el  kann ys
   so-EXP âr hrô-EXP kann ys

This is a plaintext interlinear, it uses the exact same syntax as literal blocks:: so-el âr hrô-el kann ys so-EXP âr hrô-EXP kann ys

This is a leipzig-style interlinear:

.. interlinear::
   so-el âr hrô-el kann ys
   so-EXP âr hrô-EXP kann ys

Remember to have an extra blank line after.

.. interlinear::
   so-el âr hrô-el kann ys
   so-EXP âr hrô-EXP kann ys
   "A final line with quotes is special"

This is a leipzig-style interlinear: .. interlinear:: so-el âr hrô-el kann ys so-EXP âr hrô-EXP kann ys Remember to have an extra blank line after. .. interlinear:: so-el âr hrô-el kann ys so-EXP âr hrô-EXP kann ys "A final line with quotes is special"


There are two syntaxes for tables in reStructuredText. Grid tables are complete but cumbersome to create. Simple tables are easy to create but limited (no row spans, etc.).

Plain text Typical result

Grid table:

| Header 1   | Header 2   | Header 3  |
| body row 1 | column 2   | column 3  |
| body row 2 | Cells may span columns.|
| body row 3 | Cells may  | - Cells   |
+------------+ span rows. | - contain |
| body row 4 |            | - blocks. |

Grid table:

Header 1 Header 2 Header 3
body row 1 column 2 column 3
body row 2 Cells may span columns.
body row 3 Cells may
span rows.
  • Cells
  • contain
  • blocks.
body row 4

Simple table:

=====  =====  ======
   Inputs     Output
------------  ------
  A      B    A or B
=====  =====  ======
False  False  False
True   False  True
False  True   True
True   True   True
=====  =====  ======

Simple table:

Inputs Output
A B A or B
False False False
True False True
False True True
True True True


Plain text Typical result

A transition marker is a horizontal line
of 4 or more repeated punctuation


A transition should not begin or end a
section or document, nor should two
transitions be immediately adjacent.

A transition marker is a horizontal line of 4 or more repeated punctuation characters.

A transition should not begin or end a section or document, nor should two transitions be immediately adjacent.

Transitions are commonly seen in novels and short fiction, as a gap spanning one or more lines, marking text divisions or signaling changes in subject, time, point of view, or emphasis.

Explicit Markup

Explicit markup blocks are used for constructs which float (footnotes), have no direct paper-document representation (hyperlink targets, comments), or require specialized processing (directives). They all begin with two periods and whitespace, the "explicit markup start".


Plain text Typical result
Footnote references, like [5]_.
Note that footnotes may get
rearranged, e.g., to the bottom of
the "page".

.. [5] A numerical footnote. Note
   there's no colon after the ``]``.

Footnote references, like 5. Note that footnotes may get rearranged, e.g., to the bottom of the "page".

[5] A numerical footnote. Note there's no colon after the ].
Autonumbered footnotes are
possible, like using [#]_ and [#]_.

.. [#] This is the first one.
.. [#] This is the second one.

They may be assigned 'autonumber
labels' - for instance,
[#fourth]_ and [#third]_.

.. [#third] a.k.a. third_

.. [#fourth] a.k.a. fourth_

Autonumbered footnotes are possible, like using 1 and 2.

They may be assigned 'autonumber labels' - for instance, 4 and 3.

[1] This is the first one.
[2] This is the second one.
[3] a.k.a. third
[4] a.k.a. fourth
Auto-symbol footnotes are also
possible, like this: [*]_ and [*]_.

.. [*] This is the first one.
.. [*] This is the second one.

Auto-symbol footnotes are also possible, like this: * and .

[*] This is the first symbol footnote
[†] This is the second one.

The numbering of auto-numbered footnotes is determined by the order of the footnotes, not of the references. For auto-numbered footnote references without autonumber labels ("[#]_"), the references and footnotes must be in the same relative order. Similarly for auto-symbol footnotes ("[*]_").


Plain text Typical result
Citation references, like [CIT2002]_.
Note that citations may get
rearranged, e.g., to the bottom of
the "page".

.. [CIT2002] A citation
   (as often used in journals).

Citation labels contain alphanumerics,
underlines, hyphens and fullstops.
Case is not significant.

Given a citation like [this]_, one
can also refer to it like this_.

.. [this] here.

Citation references, like [CIT2002]. Note that citations may get rearranged, e.g., to the bottom of the "page".

Citation labels contain alphanumerics, underlines, hyphens and fullstops. Case is not significant.

Given a citation like [this], one can also refer to it like this.

[CIT2002] A citation (as often used in journals).
[this] here.

Hyperlink Targets

External Hyperlink Targets

Plain text Typical result
External hyperlinks, like Python_.

.. _Python: http://www.python.org/

Fold-in form
External hyperlinks, like Python.
Call-out form
External hyperlinks, like Python.

Python: http://www.python.org/

"Fold-in" is the representation typically used in HTML documents (think of the indirect hyperlink being "folded in" like ingredients into a cake), and "call-out" is more suitable for printed documents, where the link needs to be presented explicitly, for example as a footnote. You can force usage of the call-out form by using the "target-notes" directive.

reStructuredText also provides for embedded URIs a convenience at the expense of readability. A hyperlink reference may directly embed a target URI inline, within angle brackets. The following is exactly equivalent to the example above:

Plain text Typical result
External hyperlinks, like `Python
External hyperlinks, like Python.

Internal Hyperlink Targets

Plain text Typical result
Internal crossreferences, like example_.

.. _example:

This is an example crossreference target.

Fold-in form
Internal crossreferences, like example

This is an example crossreference target.

Call-out form
Internal crossreferences, like example

This is an example crossreference target.

Indirect Hyperlink Targets

Plain text Typical result
Python_ is `my favourite
programming language`__.

.. _Python: http://www.python.org/

__ Python_

Python is my favourite programming language.

The second hyperlink target (the line beginning with "__") is both an indirect hyperlink target (indirectly pointing at the Python website via the "Python_" reference) and an anonymous hyperlink target. In the text, a double-underscore suffix is used to indicate an anonymous hyperlink reference. In an anonymous hyperlink target, the reference text is not repeated. This is useful for references with long text or throw-away references, but the target should be kept close to the reference to prevent them going out of sync.

Implicit Hyperlink Targets

Section titles, footnotes, and citations automatically generate hyperlink targets (the title text or footnote/citation label is used as the hyperlink name).

Plain text Typical result
Titles are targets, too
Implict references, like `Titles are
targets, too`_.
Titles are targets, too

Implict references, like Titles are targets, too.


Directives are a general-purpose extension mechanism, a way of adding support for new constructs without adding new syntax. For a description of all standard directives, see reStructuredText Directives.

Plain text Typical result

For instance:

.. image:: /static/img/external_link.gif

If the image cannot be found an automatically generated alt-text is used instead.

For instance:


If the image cannot be found an automatically generated alt-text is used instead.

Substitution References and Definitions

Substitutions are like inline directives, allowing graphics and arbitrary constructs within text.

Plain text Typical result
The |biohazard| symbol must be used on containers used to dispose of medical waste.

.. |biohazard| image:: biohazard.png

The biohazard symbol must be used on containers used to dispose of medical waste.


Any text which begins with an explicit markup start but doesn't use the syntax of any of the constructs above, is a comment.

Plain text Typical result
.. This text will not be shown
   (but, for instance, in HTML might be
   rendered as an HTML comment)
An "empty comment" does not
consume following blocks.
(An empty comment is ".." with
blank lines before and after.)


        So this block is not "lost",
        despite its indentation.

An "empty comment" does not consume following blocks. (An empty comment is ".." with blank lines before and after.)
So this block is not "lost", despite its indentation.

Local Customizations

The interlinear-directive does not exist in standard reStructuredText.

The raw-directive, that among other things allows raw HTML, and the include-directive, that allows including an external document, have been turned off for security-reasons.

Some directives take the options :file: and :url:. As these allows for inline inclusion of external material, these two options have also been shut off.

Getting Help

Users who have questions or need assistance with Docutils or reStructuredText should post a message to the Docutils-Users mailing list. The Docutils project web site has more information.

Originally written by: Tibs (tibs@tibsnjoan.co.uk) and David Goodger (goodger@python.org)

Adapted to CALS by admin 7